NORTH HOLLYWOOD — The season ended on a sour note for the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football team, as a one-score game morphed into a lopsided defeat for the Guards, who hosted Santa Monica at North Hollywood High Saturday afternoon.
The Guards were in striking distance the entire game, but simply couldn't move the ball on offense. They picked up just 105 offensive yards (57 passing, 48 rushing) and turned the ball over four times (two fumbles and two interceptions). The Mariners didn't fair much better in the Santa Fe League matchup, committing three turnovers in the game, but they were able to redeem themselves late and walk away with a 21-0 victory.
"When it came down to it, we were both making turnovers and it boiled down to who was going to fold in the end," said Bell-Jeff Coach Rolando Aguirre, who saw his team go from down 6-0 in the last five minutes to losing by 21.
St. Monica Coach Adam Guerra knew his team had its fair share of struggles Saturday as well.
"We just couldn't find a rhythm on offense," Guerra said. "I can't tell you specifically why. [Bell-Jeff] had a good game plan of slowing the game down and we just had no rhythm. It was an ugly game."
The Mariners (6-3 overall, 2-1 in league) scored on their second possession of the game when quarterback Luke Cain (eight of 21 for 144 yards) hit Bryan DeGrate with a 33-yard touchdown pass. The score put the Mariners up 6-0, after a missed extra point, with 1:01 left in the first quarter.
The Guards (3-7, 0-4) were given a golden opportunity to score on their next two possessions, but came up empty both times.
After the DeGrate 33-yard score, the Mariners tried to catch Bell-Jeff off guard with an onside kick, but it was recovered by the Guards at their own 44.
Bell-Jeff moved the ball to St. Monica's 15 but DeGrate killed the drive when he intercepted a pass in the Guards' end zone with 6:45 remaining in the first half. Bell-Jeff had another prime scoring opportunity when the Guards' Michael Gomez intercepted a Cain pass at his team's own 35 and returned it 50 yards back to St. Monica's 15, giving Bell-Jeff 1:54 in the half to find the end zone.
Bell-Jeff only moved in reverse, though, as a holding penalty pushed the Guards back to the 25. The Guards attempted a 43-yard field goal, but it came up short as time ran out in the first half.
"It was tough, we couldn't score," Aguirre said. "We kept dropping the football and then we couldn't throw it. Things didn't click for us."
Both teams resumed the defensive battle in the second half, as there was no score in the next 12 possessions of the game. The Guards looked to put a game-winning drive together, forcing St. Monica to punt and giving them the ball at their own 36, with 4:50 left in the game.
Once again, Bell-Jeff was pushed backward and turned the ball over on downs at its 34 when a pass from Mitch Kellogg, who led the offense with 81 yards of offense (57 passing and 24 rushing), was batted down at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-12 with 3:35 remaining.
The Mariners increased their lead to 21-0 with two touchdowns from Nicolas Pegnato (69 yards on 12 carries) at the end of the game. The first came two plays after the Guards turned the ball over on downs and the next came five plays after that on a three-yard run following a Bell-Jeff fumble.
Aguirre knew his defense left it all out there, but there was something missing on the other end of the ball.
"I was very proud of the defense, it was the best defensive output all year," Aguirre said. "They were well prepared, but the offense wasn't doing the scoring. What can you do?"